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Paper ID #6648

Temperature and Level Control of a Multivariable Water Tank Process

Dr. Vassilios Tzouanas, University of Houston - Downtown

Vassilios Tzouanas is an Assistant Professor of Control and Instrumentation in the Engineering Technol-
ogy Department at the University of Houston-Downtown. Dr. Tzouanas earned a Diploma in Chemical
Engineering from Aristotle University, the Master of Science degree in Chemical Engineering/Process
Control from the University of Alberta, and the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Chemical Engineer-
ing/Process Control from Lehigh University. His research interests focus on process control systems,
process modeling and simulation. His professional experience includes management and technical posi-
tions with chemicals, refining, and consulting companies. He is a member of AIChE and ASEE.

Mr. Matthew Stevenson

Sanjo Peter, University of Houston Downtown

I am an undergraduate student in University of Houston Downtown. I will graduate with an undergraduate

degree in Control and Instrumentation in May 2013. I work as an I & E Technician in Magellan LP,
Houston. I immigrated to United States from India seven years ago. I am a father of two sons and
husband to my loving wife.

c Society for Engineering Education, 2013
Temperature and Level Control of a Multivariable Water Tank Process

The project is concerned with the design of a water tank process and experimental evaluation of
feedback control structures to achieve water level and temperature control at desired set point
values. The manipulated variables are the pump power, on the water outflow line, and heat
supply to the tank. Detailed, first principles-based, dynamic models as well as empirical models
for this interactive and multivariable process have been developed and used for controller design.
Furthermore, this experimental study entails and discusses the design of the water tank process
and associated instrumentation, real time data acquisition and control using the DeltaV
distributed control system (DCS), process modeling, controller design, and evaluation of the
performance of tuning methodologies in a closed loop manner. This student work was submitted
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Senior Project in Controls and Instrumentation
course at the Engineering Technology department of the University of Houston - Downtown.

1. Introduction
The Control and Instrumentation program at the University of Houston - Downtown includes a
number of courses on process control, process modeling and simulation, electrical/electronic
systems, computer technologies, and communication systems. To meet graduation requirements
for the degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology, students must work in teams
and complete a capstone project. This project, also called Senior Project in our terminology,
provides students with an opportunity to work on complex control problems, similar to ones
encountered in the industry, and employ a number of technologies and methods to provide a
practical solution.

In general, the Senior Project entails the design and construction of a process, identification of
key control objectives, specification and implementation of required instrumentation for process
variable(s) monitoring and control, real time data acquisition and storage methods, modeling of
the process using empirical and/or analytical methods, design and tuning of controllers, and
closed loop control performance evaluation.

Equally important to these technical requirements are a number of non-technical requirements

focusing on project management, technical writing, presentation of technical topics, teamwork
and communication. This paper presents the results from a senior project which aims to
simultaneously control the level and temperature of water in a tank. Such objectives are
important to the process industries concerned with materials and energy control.

The remaining of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 discusses the process under
consideration and the control objectives. Sections 3 refers to the instrumentation required to
measure and control key process variables. Section 4 presents the computing platform which is a
distributed control system (DCS). Section 5 presents the dynamic modeling results based on first
principles. Section 6 presents empirical modeling, tuning and closed loop results for the water
level and temperature. Section 7 summarizes main results and is followed by references.

2. The Process and Control Objectives
A schematic of the process is shown in Figure 1. The water tank has a constant cross sectional
area. The water height is being affected by the flow in and the flow out. The flow in to the tank is
not available for control purposes but can be manually adjusted to simulate a process
disturbance. The water outflow depends on the power supplied to the pump which is available
for manipulation and control of the water level in the tank. A heating element provides the
required energy to maintain a desired water temperature by adjusting the electrical power to it.

The control objective is to maintain the water level (measured by transmitter LT) and
temperature (measured by transmitter TT) at desired setpoint values using closed loop feedback
control strategies which employ PI controllers (LC and TC, respectively) on a Delta V
distributed control system. Figure 2 shows the control strategy to achieve this objective.

Fig. 1: Schematic of the Water Tank

Fig. 2: Control Strategy for the Water Tank

As shown in Figure 2, one PI controller is used to maintain material inventory (i.e. water level)
in the tank by adjusting the power to the pump. Also, another PI is used to control the water
temperature at a desired setpoint value by adjusting the power to the heating element.

3. Process Instrumentation
A metal tank of 39 gallon capacity is used to hold water. To achieve water level and temperature
control, a number of instruments are used. Water level is measured using a general purpose
EchoPod DL14 sensor with 4-20mA signal output. For the purpose of this project the level
transmitter is calibrated to read up to 25 inches maximum. The level transmitter is connected to
the DCS input card. Figure 3 shows a picture of the level sensor.

Fig. 3: Echo Pod DL14 Level Sensor

To control the water level, by adjusting the flow out from the tank, a pump is used. The
particular pump for this project is an Atwood Tsunami Aerator pump (Figure 4). The Attwood
Tsunami pump uses a 12-volt, 3-amp DC power supply.

Fig. 4: Attwood Tsunami Aerator Pump

A pulse width modulation (PWM) circuit is used to adjust the speed of the DC motor to
manipulate the flow out from the tank, which in turn controls the level of the tank. A LM324 IC
based PWM circuit is used to control the speed of the motor. The PWM circuit converts in
coming 1 to 5 volt signal to an average 0 to 12 volt output to control the speed of the motor. The
4 to 20 mA output from the DeltaV is converted to a 1 to 5 volt signal using a resistor in parallel
with the output. This 1 to 5 volt signal serves as the reference voltage for the PWM circuit. The
circuit compares the reference voltage to an internally generated saw tooth voltage to control the
average output to the motor. The average voltage output to the motor depends on the width of the
12 volt pulses that are send to the motor.

Water temperature is measured using a Type K thermocouple with a sensitivity of

approximately 41 µV/°C (Figure 5)

Fig. 5: HTTC36-K-18G-6 K Type Thermocouple

The power to the heating element is controlled using a zero crossing Watlow controller (Figure
6). The Watlow controller takes 4 to 20 mA as input and determines the number of cycles
reaching the heating element from a 60 Hz alternating current depending on the input to achieve
continuous control of the heater. The power for the heating element comes from a 20 Amps, 220
Volt, 2 Phase disconnect switch. The maximum power that can be drawn by the heater is limited
by the disconnect switch.

Fig. 6: Watlow DIN-A-MITE Power Controller

4. The Control Platform

The control system used for this project is Emerson DeltaV Distributed Control System.This
control system uses a standard PC hardware for user interfaces, paired with proprietary
controllers and I/O modules to control numbers of control loops. This hardware can be
distributed throughout a process plant connected through Foundation Fieldbus modules. The I/O
cards used for this process are analog input cards, analog output card and one thermocouple card.
A basic DeltaV system overview is shown in Figure 7. Detailed information for this type of DCS
can be found at Emerson’s website (

Fig. 7: DeltaV System Overview 1

The strategy for level and temperature control has been implemented using two PI controllers.
Part of the system configuration and implementation is the development of a user interface which
allows the user to oversee the control of the tank process. Figure 8 shows this user interface
along with the faceplates of the level and temperature controllers. Using these faceplates, the
user can change the mode of the controllers (Auto/Manual), adjust the setpoint of the controllers
(in auto mode) or the controller output (when in manual mode), and even fine tune the
controllers by specifying the values for the proportional gain and integral time (or reset in
DeltaV terminology). Details on system configuration and interface development are beyond the
scope of this work and thus omitted.

Fig. 8: Operator Interface with Controller Faceplates and Trending Capabilities

5. Analytical Modeling
In order to design and tune the level and temperature controllers, models describing the impact
of pump power on level and heating element power on temperature are required. Such models
can be developed using empirical methods (i.e. step testing the process) or analytically using
material and energy balances. The development of the analytical models is described in the
following for the water level and temperature.

5a. Level Model
Referring to Figure 1, the two inputs to this model are the water flow in, Fi, and flow out, Fo,
from the tank. Assuming constant water density, , and tank cross sectional area, A, a material
balance around the tank yields:

( )


( )

( )

( )


( )

Equation (1) is the time domain model between the water level, h, and the flow in and pump
power (in % of scale). To develop the transfer function, equation (1) is Laplace transformed
which yields:
( ) ( ) ( )

( ) ( ) ( ) (2)

From equation (2), the transfer function between tank level, h, and pump power is:
h( s ) K
 v (3)
Vv ( s) A s

Since data is gathered every 5 seconds, a time delay of 5 sec (or 0.083 min) is added to the level
transfer function. Thus, to tune the PI controller, the transfer function in equation (4) is used:

h( s ) K v  e 0.083s
 (4)
Vv ( s) A s

For the water tank, the following operating data applies:

Cross sectional area, A: 225 in2
Maximum level, h: 25 in
Max pump flow, Fo,max: 100 gph = 1.67 gpm
Pump constant, Kv: 0.0167 gpm/% speed = 3.85 in3/min/%speed

Using this data, equation (4) yields:

h( s ) K  e 0.083s 0.0684  e 0.083s
GPL , A ( s)   v  (5)
Vv ( s) A s s

Thus, Equation (5) gives the transfer function between the water level (in %) and the pump
power (in %). It can be used to tune the level PI controller according to any chosen tuning

5b. Temperature Model

The model describing the effect of power to the heating element on the water temperature is
derived by combining material and energy balances. Also, the following assumptions are being
a. Water density and heat capacity remain constant
b. There is perfect water mixing in the tank
c. The water level is kept constant (i.e. flow in = flow out)
d. The tank cross sectional area is constant
e. The inlet water temperature is constant
f. Heat losses to the surroundings are minimal

Then, using the previous assumptions, an energy balance around the tank gives:

d (m  c p  T )
   c P  Fi  Ti    c P  F0  T  K h  Ph
m: water mass in tank
cP: water heat capacity
: water density
Fi: water flow in
Ti: inlet water temperature
Fo: water flow in
T: water temperature
Kh: gain of power to heating element
Ph: power to heating element (in % of scale)

m    A h

  cp  A h     c P  Fi  Ti    c P  F0  T  K h  Ph
dT Kh
Ah  Fi  Ti  F0  T   Ph
dt   cP
A  h dT Fi Kh
   Ti  T   Ph
F0 dt F0   c P  F0

Since, it is assumed that the level is held constant, Fi = Fo. Then,

A  h dT Kh
  Ti  T   Ph
F0 dt   c P  F0

Assuming deviation variables, Ti to remain constant, and Laplace transforming the above
equation, it yields:
Ah Kh
( )  s  T ( s )  T ( s )   Ph ( s )
F0   c P  F0
Ah Kh
[( )  s  1]  T ( s )   Ph ( s )
F0   c P  F0
T (s)   c P  F0
G PT , A ( s )  
Ph ( s ) Ah
( )  s 1
The above equation gives the analytically derived transfer function between the power to the
heating element (in % of scale) and water temperature. Using the steady state conditions for the
water tank as shown in Table 1, the following analytical process model is obtained:

Table 1: Water Tank Data

Water Tank Steady State Conditions
Variable Value Units
Water flow out 61.6 in3/min
Water heat capacity 4.18 J/(g K)
Water density 1 g/cm3
Water height (%) 50 %
Tank cross sectional area 225 in2
Maximum power to heating element 840 W
Heating element power gain 504 J/(min %)

T ( s) 0.12
GPT , A ( s)   (6)
Ph ( s) 45.65  s  1

Thus, the process gain is 0.12 C/% while the time constant is 45.65 min.

6. Empirical Modeling, Tuning, and Closed Loop Control

Empirical models between controlled and manipulated variables are being developed by
collecting and analyzing process data gathered under controlled, open loop conditions by
stepping the manipulated variables. Using such models and certain tuning methods, initial tuning
parameters for the water level and temperature PI controllers are calculated. Finally, the closed
loop performance of the PI controllers is tested for setpoint changes and the interaction of the
two control loops is being accessed.

6a. Empirical Modeling for Level Controller

The water tank level is held constant by equalizing the water flow out and the flow in. Then, the
flow out is changed in a step wise manner and the level response is being observed. A series of
step changes is introduced while the water level is maintained within range. As expected, the
level behaves like an integrating (or ramp) process. Using step test data, an average time delay
(in min) and gain ( in % of level/min per % of power) were calculated. These values are as

Level Process Gain:

%level / min
K PL  0.073
% power

Level Time Delay:

 L  8.5 sec  0.14 min

Thus the empirical transfer function between the tank level and the pump speed is:
K PL  e  L s 0.073  e 0.14s
GPL , E ( s)    (7)
s s

By comparing the analytical transfer function, equation (5), and the empirical transfer function,
equation (7), there is good agreement between both methods for this particular process. To tune
the PI level controller the model given by equation (7) is used.

6b. Tuning the Level PI Controller and Closed Loop Results

Using the IMC tuning method2, c, the
tuning parameters are shown in Table 2 with the integral time in seconds as required by DeltaV.

Table 2: Level Controller Tuning using the IMC Method
c (s) KCL (%speed/%level/min) TICL (s)
8.5 73.32 25.2
17 54.35 42.0
25.5 42.80 58.8
34 34.5 76.5
42.5 29.89 92.4
51 25.95 109.2

Based on the data shown in Table 2, it is concluded that as the desired closed loop time constant
increases, the tuning of the controller is less aggressive (lower gain and longer integral time).
Figure 9 shows the closed loop control of the tank level for various tuning parameters which
correspond to different values of the closed loop time constant that varies from 8.5 to 51 seconds.
Note that the horizontal axis represents process time in military time units while the vertical axis
goes from 0% to 100% and can be used both for the level and the pump power. Thus, in Figure
9, it is demonstrated that as the desired closed loop time constant increases, the level response to
a step change in the level setpoint is more sluggish while the movement of the manipulated
variable (pump power) is reduced.

Fig. 9:

By comparing the different system responses, it seems that when

, the level responds very well to setpoint changes. However, the manipulated variable
response is still very noisy. By filtering the level measurement using a filter with time
constant of 10 seconds, the closed system response is improved (Figure 10). The reduction in
the movement of the manipulated variable (pump power) is noticeable.

Fig. 10:

In spite of the performance improvement achieved, as shown in Figure 10, by filtering the
controlled variable (level), it appears that the controller is still tightly tuned. Further manual
adjustments to the tuning parameters yield the response shown in Figure 11. The conclusion
is that using modeling techniques and appropriate tuning methods, good initial tuning
parameters can be obtained. However, final manual adjustments may be required to further
improve closed loop control performance.

Fig. 11: Level response with manual tuning ( s)

6c. Empirical Modeling of Water Temperature
A number of step changes are made to the power to the heating element and the water response is
observed. The response was modeled as that of a self-regulating process as shown in Figure 12.

Fig. 12: Temperature response to heating element power changes

Using the process reaction curve method3, the calculated parameter values for a first order plus
dead-time model, as shown in equation (8), are:

 s
T ( s) K p  e
G PT , E ( s)   (8)
Ph ( s)  P  s  1

Process gain: KP = 0.0938 C/% power

Time constant: p = 54 min
Time delay:  = 3 min

Comparing the analytical and empirical temperature models from equations (6) and (8),
respectively, it is concluded that there is good agreement.

6c. Tuning the Temperature PI Controller and Closed Loop Results

Table 3 shows tuning parameters for a PI controller using the IMC tuning method for various
values of the desired closed loop time constant when the empirical model is used.

Table 3: Tuning Results for Temperature Control Loop Using Empirical Model

Based on the open loop transfer of the temperature, it is expected that the temperature loop will
respond slowly. Indeed, using the tuning parameters, KC = 96.7 and I = 3138 seconds, the
response of the temperature to setpoint changes is very slow. By adjusting the integral time from
3138 seconds to 850 seconds, the closed loop response of the temperature to setpoint changes is
improved considerably as shown in Figure 13. The temperature reaches its new setpoint of 26 C
in about 30 minutes. Again, the point is that the modeling and tuning of the temperature
controller yields suitable initial tuning parameters but manual fine tuning may still be required.
Especially, this is important for industrial applications. Tuning results from commercial tuning
packages cannot blindly be used on the real process. Fine tuning of the online controller and
evaluation of its closed loop performance by a knowledgeable engineer is typically required.

Also, in Figure 13, the water level is shown. The level PI controller maintains tight level control.
When a level setpoint change from 55% to 60% is introduced at time equal to 16:50pm, the
temperature control loop is being affected. The temperature, initially, drops but the PI controller
responds quickly to bring it back to its setpoint of 26 C. Thus, there is interaction between the
two control loops but the controllers have been tuned such that this interaction is acceptable.

Fig. 13: Temperature Response when

If the temperature controller were tuned using the analytical model, the tuning parameters would
be: Kc = 63 and I = 720s. Figure 14 shows the closed loop temperature response to a setpoint
change of 1.5 C when the tuning is done using the empirical model (red line) and the analytical
model (green line). Even though the response using the analytical model is slower compared to
that when using the empirical model, it is apparent that both models yield tuning parameters
which result in acceptable closed loop temperature control.

Temperature Control Using Tuning based on Analytical and Empirical

24.5 Models 22.8
Water Temperature ( C )

24 22.3

23.5 21.8

23 21.3
Setpoint Temp (Empirical)
22.5 20.8

22 20.3
100 125 150 175 200 225 250 275 300 325
Time (min)

Fig. 14: Temperature Response with Tuning based on the Empirical and Analytical Models.

7. Conclusions
The paper was concerned with the design of two feedback, single input/single output control
structures to control an interactive, multivariable, experimental process. The controlled variables
are the tank water level and temperature. Modeling results using analytical, first principles based
methods, and empirical, step test based, approaches were presented. There was close agreement
between the analytical and empirical models. Tuning of the PI controllers was done using the
IMC method. For improved closed loop performance, fine tuning of the PI controllers was

This work was performed in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Senior Project course
in Controls and Instrumentation of the Engineering Technology department at the University of
Houston – Downtown. The work was completed in a semester’s time. By completing this work,
students demonstrated proficiency in a number of technologies and methods including: process
design, instrumentation, DeltaV distributed control systems, process modeling, controller tuning,
and closed loop control systems implementation.

1. Emerson Website,
2. Rivera D.E., Morari M, Skogestad S., “Internal model control. 4. PID controller design”, Ind. Eng. Chem.
Process Des. Dev. 1986; 25:252–65.
3. Marlin T.E., “Process Control: Designing Processes and Control Systems for Dynamic Performance”, 2nd
Edition, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-039362-1, 2000.